BMCR 2022.11.28

Νεωτερικές τάσεις στην ιστοριογραφία των Μακεδόνων: Η περίπτωση της Συνέχειας Φεοφάνη (Βιβλία α’-δ’)

, Νεωτερικές τάσεις στην ιστοριογραφία των Μακεδόνων: Η περίπτωση της Συνέχειας Φεοφάνη (Βιβλία α’-δ’). Βυζαντινά κείμενα και μελετές, 66. Thessaloniki: Byzantine Research Centre, 2021. Pp. 399. ISBN 9789607856630 $104.92.

The present book studies the anonymous History conventionally called Theophanes Continuatus (= ThCont) because it continues the chronicle of Theophanes, which ended in 815, until the year 867[1]. The text was written in the tenth century under the patronage of emperor Constantine VII, who probably took part in its composition and was also partly responsible for a fifth book, the Vita Basilii (= VB), a more elaborate work describing the life and deeds of his grandfather Basil I (867-886), founder of the Macedonian dynasty.[2]

After presenting the text in the two first sections of the study, Sideri directly proceeds to study the narrative under different perspectives in six autonomous sections. Although there is no introduction in which Sideri explains the plan of the book, the reader is confronted with very rewarding approaches that cover a variety of topics, such as the role of the narrator, the characters of the history, the sources, and the influence of ancient models. These sections complement each other and provide the reader with a comprehensive vision of the work that has not been conveyed in any other study so far. The analysis is also based on an attentive reading of the main secondary bibliography, whose contribution to the different problems under scrutiny is minutely recorded, with few exceptions.

After the bibliography, the first chapter of Section I provides a short introduction to the figure and literary output of Constantine VII. Sideri here argues for considering Books I-IV of ThCont as a ‘history’ rather than a ‘chronicle’. Chapter I.2 is a brief presentation of the text, which first focuses on its dating and chronological sequence in relation to the VB and Genesios (a historian writing at roughly the same time and covering the same events). Here, against the prevailing sequence VB > Genesios > ThCont I-IV (according to C. Mango, who dated the Vita Basilii to 957),[3] Sideri convincingly pleads in pp. 38-42 for the sequence Genesios (945-947/8) > VB (948-957) > ThCont I-IV, dating this last work to the end of Constantine VII’s reign in 959. She argues that Genesios would never have written about Basil I if the VB had already been finished and that the author of ThCont I-IV seems to have known the text of the VB to which he occasionally refers. There follows a review of the manuscripts, Vat. gr. 167 and its copies, and of the recent editions of Ševčenko and Featherstone-Signes Codoñer (pp. 48-52), stressing as a shortcoming of the latter its summary treatment of the sources. However, this was already dealt with in my study of 1995[4] and also, for ThCont IV, in the monograph of P. Varona Codeso.[5] Section II offers a summary of the prologue and a useful and detailed description of the contents of ThCont I-IV.

Section III centres on the interventions of the narrator. In chapter III.1, successive tables list the passages of the first four books of ThCont in which the narrator appears by using the first person (singular or plural). The personal interventions of the narrator are carefully distinguished from those in which he simply refers in the plural to his own age or contemporaries as a group.

In chapter III.2 all the passages are summarized in which the author expands or comments upon his sources without using the first person, but clearly introducing personal remarks or opinions. Only occasionally does Sideri delve into the topics and issues under consideration. She notices, for instance, the repeated emphasis on φθόνος by the narrator in a number of episodes, but makes no comment on the narrator’s historiographical excurses which are key for understanding his conception of the work.

There follows in chapter III.3 a summary of the passages with direct or indirect speech or dialogue. In a final paragraph Sideri concludes that their use by the narrator aims to make his narrative vivid rather than truthful. This is an obvious conclusion as Byzantine historiography tended to view speeches in historical narratives as rhetorical pieces not compatible with historical truth (see for instance the prologue of Zonaras’ Epitome historiarum). This is precisely the reason why direct discourse is usually very short (as in ThCont) and appears combined with indirect reported discourse. Sideri does not take this distinction into account.

In chapter III.4, Sideri considers flashbacks and flashforwards that deviate from the main timeline. ThCont slows down or increases the tempo at his convenience by using excursuses and time gaps, respectively, of which Sideri again provides a summary. However, as Sideri acknowledges, although the chronological sequence of the events is preserved in the narrative of ThCont I-II, a thematic arrangement prevails in ThCont III-IV. Sideri gives no explanation for this situation, which is due to the nature of the sources consulted by the narrator, mostly hagiographies and oral traditions with which a continuous chronological narrative could not be built. The final part of this section is devoted to prophecies and visions as projections of future events. This consists of a short introduction (focusing on the importance of prophecies among the Macedonians), a detailed summary of such instances in the narrative of ThCont, and some conclusions based on an study by G. Calofonos.[6]

In chapter III.5, Sideri deals with the 33 explicit chronological references present in ThCont I-IV. These mostly concern the proclamation and death of emperors as well as the dating of wars. She notices that they are more frequent in the first two books, but without saying that this is again due to the nature of the sources used by the author, which explains, as mentioned above, the thematic order of the last two books. However, Sideri attributes to the sources the use in ThCont of references such as τῷ ἐπιόντι ἐνιαυτῷ, which are chronologically imprecise. Although this possibility cannot be ruled out, the procedure followed by the compilers of the Logothete, who systematically omitted the precise dates of the sources and substituted vague phrases of this kind, provides an alternative explanation: precise dates were deemed unworthy of a literary history as too technical and characteristic of chronicles, so that they were mostly avoided by ThCont, who uses instead transitional phrases (μετ᾽ οὐ πολύ and the like) to mark the succession of events. Sideri provides useful tables of the instances of dates recorded in ThCont I-IV and accompanies each of them with a brief commentary based on previous research. There is no overall assessment of chronological method in ThCont.

Chapter III.6 deals with what Sideri calls συνδετικές φράσεις, that is, cross-references to previous or later passages and closing remarks or transitional phrases, which give coherence to the historical narrative. She has brilliantly distributed the different typologies among separate boxes inside complete and stimulating tables, listing all instances of each case, perhaps with the exception of the μετ᾽ οὐ πολύ and similar expressions, which she has left out in the previous chapter. However, no comment is made concerning the evidence collected, which might illustrate the author’s consistent narrative technique.

Section IV is devoted to prosopography. Chapter IV.1 deals with the portrayal of characters in the narrative and begins with a lengthy presentation of the main and secondary figures. This is mainly a paraphrase of the text of ThCont I-IV with the support of modern bibliography and the Prosopographie der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit edited by R.-J. Lilie. The characters are presented as they appear in the narrative, but it would have been advisable to group them, except for the emperors, according to the typology of the sources on which the narrative was based, considering for instance the oral tradition on which the reports on Manuel the Armenian and his amazing exploits were based,[7] or the problems related to the conflation of Thomas the Slav with Thomas the Armenian into a single character,[8] aspects that are passed over in silence by Sideri, who rather sticks to the text without considering the nature of the sources on which it was based and which are dealt with in section V. The final pages of this chapter are devoted to the depiction of the characters’ feelings, again according to their appearance in the narrative. Sideri quotes the relevant passages, emphasizing recurring passions, and observes that they appear often in contrary pairs (such as θάρρος-φόβος), with rare mention of physical expression, and are more variegated in ThCont III-IV. She concludes that although the author obviously tends to present the iconophiles in a positive light and the iconoclasts in a negative one, he avoids Schwarzweissmalerei and combines good and bad features in many characters, as is for instance the case of the emperors, in agreement with my study of 1995. Sideri also briefly considers the role of women in the narrative, which is marginal except for the case of Theodora. The exposition proceeds without tables, which would have been helpful here.

Chapter IV.2 deals with the depiction of foreign peoples in ThCont I-IV, namely, Bulgarians, Rhos, Khazars, Arabs, Persians, Jews, Athinganoi, and Armenians. Sideri summarizes the passages in which these people are mentioned, but does not enter into the debate over their identity. Kaldellis, for instance, denies the label of Armenians for many of the persons Sideri lists as such.[9] Contradictions in the sources are left unexplained, such as the Slavic identity of Thomas the Armenian (here we probably have to do with two different persons). Furthermore, the identity of the Persians of Theophobos, identified by Sideri as Turks (p. 221, n. 459), or the different ethnicities understood under the terms ‘Arabs’ and ‘Saracens’ used in the work (Berbers from Spain and Persians from the Abbasid caliphate) are not further explored.

Section V deals with the sources of ThCont I-IV and is mainly based on previous research. Sideri admits that it is not easy to identify borrowings from the sources beyond the few detected in our edition, since most of these sources have been lost and their characteristics and content remain hypothetical, for instance Niketas’s Secret History as conjectured by W. Treadgold (pp. 257-259).[10] Sideri appears to support the conception of the common source as a dossier of summaries and excerpts of the original texts, as defended now by most researchers, thus rejecting both the identification of the common source as a history or any direct use by Genesios and ThCont of the original manuscripts of the works they consulted, as suggested by P. Varona (pp. 250-253). Sideri devotes only a few pages to the comparison of the texts of Genesios and ThCont in order to determine their different use of their common source.

Section VI tracks the influence of ancient historiography, rhetoric, philosophy, hagiography, and mirrors of princes on ThCont, as well as its use of proverbial and set phrases. The treatment in each chapter is uneven. Thus, the influence of ancient historians, mostly through their presence in the Excerpta Historica (for example, Polybios), or their absence (for example, Plutarch), is presented in some detail through a summary of the publications of A. Nemeth and A. Kaldellis,[11] the only new contribution of Sideri being a far-fetched connection between the concept of history in ThCont and Theophylaktos Simokattes. On the other hand, the chapter dealing with hagiography is only half a page long and misses the opportunity to address the great influence of lost hagiographies on the narrative of ThCont (such as those dealing with the Monk of Philomelion, or even secular ones such as the biographies of Manuel the Armenian and Alexios Musele). The chapter on philosophy mainly centres on the vocabulary of the prooimion. The final chapter V.6 consists of tables, made mostly on the basis of the recent edition, in which proverbial phrases are misleadingly recorded on the same level as textual borrowings from ancient authors, whereas Biblical citations are set apart from them.

In section VII, Sideri makes a praiseworthy attempt to summarize and reconcile the contradictory views expressed to date on the authorship of ThCont, covering a wide range of options from a shared redaction of the emperor Constantine VII and a team of scholars working under his direction to the single authorship of one of the historians mentioned by Skylitzes in the prooimion of his history. Sideri mentions (pp. 322-323) certain linguistic features of the text of ThCont I-IV that do not appear in the VB (the particles γοῦν and ὅθεν and the expression θάττον ἢ) and would therefore point to a different author. However, if we admit the existence of a team of writers, including the emperor, assuming different levels of responsibility in working with the sources at their disposal, we cannot exclude the possibility that one and the same person worked in both parts, but that the text of VB, as supervised directly by the emperor and being on an undeniably higher stylistic level, was subjected to a different stylistic rewriting. Sideri also admits the possibility that ThCont was intended for readings in the palace, mostly for a small circle of σπουδαῖοι, which might explain the limited transmission of the work (pp. 333-341). In the last chapter of this section, Sideri recapitulates and comments on the observations of Serventi on the marginalia of the Vat. Gr. 167, the only manuscript of the work.[12]

In the last section, section VIII, Sideri compares the text of ThCont I-IV with the parallel version of Theophanes (for the reign of Leo V) and the group of the Logothete.

The general conclusions of the volume are for the most part a summary of the main points and arguments raised in the previous sections, but read by themselves offer an excellent characterization of the work. There follows a table of the identified sources of ThCont, some pictures of the buildings described in the text, and a final excursus on the rhetorical model of the VB.

The complexity and, particularly, the high number of issues covered in the study prevents the author from engaging in a detailed and deep analysis of the problems, and Sideri often sticks to previous studies without producing new evidence, thus giving the impression in some sections of an overview rather than original research. However, she also raises new questions and adopts new perspectives, so she deserves to be congratulated for the conception of this work that will undoubtedly inspire future research on similar texts.

 

Notes

[1] J. Featherstone – J. Signes Codoñer (eds.), Chronographiae quae Theophanis Continuati nomine fertur libri I-IV, Berlin 2015.

[2] I. Ševčenko (ed.), Chronographiae quae Theophanis Continuati nomine fertur liber quo Vita Basilii imperatoris amplectitur, Berlin 2011.

[3] C. Mango in his prolegomena to Ševčenko’s edition (see note 1), pp. 8*-9*.

[4] J. Signes Codoñer, El periodo del segundo iconoclasmo en Theophanes Continuatus, Amsterdam 1995.

[5] P. Varona Codeso, El método de composición en la historiografía bizantina del siglo X, Madrid 2006.

[6] G. Calofonos, “Dream narratives in the Continuation of Theophanes”, in Ch. Angelidi – G. Calofonos (eds.), Dreaming in Byzantium and Beyond, Farnham/Burlington 2014, 95-123.

[7] See J. Signes Codoñer, “Dead or alive? Manuel the Armenian’s (after)life after 838”, in Ch. Gastgeber et alii (eds.), Pour l’amour de Byzance. Hommage à Paolo Odorico, Frankfurt am Main 2013, pp. 231-242.

[8] See J. Signes Codoñer, The Emperor Theophilos and the East (829-842). Court and Frontier in Byzantium during the last phase of Iconoclasm, Aldershot 2014, pp. 183-195.

[9] A. Kaldellis, Romanland. Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium, Cambridge (Mass.) 2019, pp. 155-195.

[10] W. Treadgold, The Middle Byzantine Historians, New York 2013, pp. 191-194.

[11] A. Németh, The Excerpta Constantiniana and the Byzantine Appropriation of the Past, Cambridge 2018; A. Kaldellis, “The Byzantine Role in the Making of the Corpus of Classical Greek Historiography: A Preliminary Investigation”, Journal of Hellenic Studies 132 (2102) 71-85.

[12] See now also M. Featherstone, “Further evidence for the extent of missing folia in Vat. gr. 167 at the end of Theophanes Continuatus”, in M. D’Agostino – L. Pieralli (ed.), Φιλόδωρος εὐμενείας Miscellanea di studi in ricordo di Mons. Paul Canart, Città del Vaticano 2021, 259-270.